District heating technology: how it works and what benefits it offers

We often hear about district heating, but what exactly does that mean? And what advantages does it bring? We at IBT Group are able to meet this need as well, thanks to our high-efficiency cogeneration plants that exploit the patented oil-free technology of our partner Capstone Green Energy. Here’s what to know about it!

What does district heating consist of

The term “district heating” refers to a form of heating that consists of the distribution of hot, superheated water or steam generated by large cogeneration plants by means of pipeline networks to individual residential or commercial units – all managed remotely. In this way, the water arrives at the buildings for both heating and cooling purposes and then returns to the power station at either a lower or higher temperature. To power a district heating plant, different types of fuel can be used. District heating technology enables very high overall efficiency levels to be achieved, which translates into savings in terms of economics, logistics and the environment.

What is the purpose of district heating?

Thanks to district heating, it is possible to remotely distribute heat for both heating and cooling of buildings used for housing or commercial activities. In other words, it is a complete system of production and distribution of highly efficient heat that uses different energy sources, renewable and non-renewable. This offers numerous advantages from several points of view, such as:

  • Stricter and more frequent control of the fumes emitted from the chimneys of cogeneration plants than that of plants belonging to condominiums or individual houses;
  • The choice of the fuel used is based not only on the basis of economic convenience and market availability, but also on the availability of resources in the area of reference, whether renewable or not;
  • The limited need for maintenance;
  • More efficient use of primary energy;
  • Increased energy security, due to the possibility of exploiting several energy sources simultaneously at the local level;
  • Reduced transport and maintenance costs;
  • Reduced emissions of CO2 and other pollutants, such as NOx, CO and particulate matter.

How does the district heating network work?

A district heating plant is designed and constructed on the basis of a consumer needs analysis (estimated or actual) and the possible distribution route. This can be direct or indirect: in the first case, a single hydraulic circuit connects the plant with the user’s heating body while in the second case, there are two or more separate circuits connected through special heat exchangers. The water is then transported through a network of pre-insulated pipes to the connected buildings. Here by means of sub-stations the heat is transferred to the building system, allowing both, the heating of the rooms and use of hot water. Once the heat has been transferred, the water returns to the power station to restart its cycle. In most cases, the heat production plant also produces electrical energy at the same time, thanks to cogeneration. Cogeneration is synonymous with energy efficiency: using a single primary energy carrier, both electrical and thermal energy are produced with very low harmful emissions at low costs and with respect for the surrounding environment. An example is the installation to meet the needs of the new district heating system of Cervinia carried out by IBT Group: here it was applied the cogeneration system with Capstone C1000 Turbine in the “Dual Mode” version, an additional plus that allows in addition to the normal operation in parallel to the network, also the functionality in isolation in case of blackout. The result is the combined production of 1000kWel and hot water at 105°C obtained by exploiting the exhaust gases leaving the turbine.